I ended the previous post with the question of what we might mean by our decisions to denominate ourselves as ‘Christian’ or otherwise. Before I can answer that though, I think it is worth noting just how infatuated we are with denominating everything. Every new piece of music has to have its own sub-sub-sub genre, every dog and doll its own name. I went to a barbeque the other day, and it seemed that every condiment was branded to be directly out of someone’s kitchen: Paul Newman’s salad dressing, Mrs Miggins’ chutney, Jeremiah Colman’s mustard… We love to buy these things because we love to buy into the feeling that we are a part of something, part of their story.
So when we denominate ourselves as ‘Christian’ it is worth thinking about the motivations that may lie behind it. Are we simply ‘buying into’ faith because we want to feel included, to feel part of something (anything?) or are we actually committed to the story that the denomination implies?
As we’ve already seen, what Satre is getting at is that any act of naming carries with it a paradox of facticity and transcendence. So if we are truly to call ourselves Christian we need to be prepared to embrace this paradox. Indeed, one might simply say that a Christian is simply someone attempting to live ‘in good faith.’
For those on the more traditional wing of the church, this will probably mean avoiding the collapse of the paradox into facticity, and a commitment to exploring the transcendent side of both ourselves and our faith. It will mean meditating that ‘it is only at the level of person, […] this abyss beyond all properties, that man is “in the image of God.”‘ Will asked me to explore what I meant by the ‘transcendent abyss-mal side’; what I mean by this is a willingness to accept that we are each, as individuals, unable to fully describe ourselves, or be described. Our person-alities are in this sense an abyss – bottomless, and thus quite dark. If this is the sense in which are in God’s image, then we have to accept too that our faith can never be adequately described in a creed or set of rational statements.
For those on the more, ’emerging’ wing of the church, living ‘in good faith’ will instead mean avoiding the collapse of the paradox into transcendence, and a commitment to exploring the facticity of ourselves and our faith. It will mean meditating on the fact that calling oneself a Christian does actually imply something about our view of the world. We should not shy away from this, but be happy to nail our colours to the mast.
Most importantly though, it will mean a constant negotiation of this paradoxical state. Satre was well aware that language and communication requires that we denominate. But that does not mean things are simple. What interests me about the Judeo-Christian history is that we are engaging a God who is well aware of this paradox too, a God who has a name, but will not and cannot be named.
It is this God, named and nameless, transcendent and factual that we attempt to emulate, and in doing so, must work towards living in good faith, in the tension of this paradox, too.